A woman has rattled a small Georgia community after members there say she scammed them out of thousands of dollars.
Chattooga County Sheriff Mark Schrader has initiated a criminal investigation after Atlanta-based developer Marlena Barnett, CEO of Lakes of Summerville, has been accused of selling fake deeds on land she doesn’t own.
One investor, Jacobi Thornton, told WSB-TV he paid $22,500 for five acres of land that doesn’t exist.
Another said, “my total investment was $7,500 for an acre of land.”
Several others have come forward alleging their investment was a complete rip-off.
Authorities believe Barnett sold investors on a housing project, called the Lakes of Summerville, which was supposed to be a community project where they bought land with a return on investment. The project was advertised as land where homeowners could purchase and build homes, bike trails and fishing ponds.
One investor, Bonnie Hunt, said she purchased the land but never received a deed.
“She finally gave us a deed in March 2022,” she said. “We found out we couldn’t file those deeds because she didn’t own the land. That’s when all hell broke loose.”
WSB-TV reached out to Barnett who said that she has received about $150,000 from people wanting to invest in the project. She claims that she initially had an agreement from two property owners to buy the land, but they abruptly pulled out of the deal.
“Unfortunately, we just never raised enough money,” Barnett said. “We were told that we could subdivide the property. We were told that it was ours.”
Meanwhile, Sheriff Schrader said that “the person selling the property didn’t have the authority to sell the property. We found that some people have received deeds, but they are fictitious deeds.”
Barnett has not been charged with a crime but the Chattooga County Sheriff’s Office intends to bring her in for questioning at a later date.